From the Journals

Get triage plans in place before COVID-19 surge hits, critical care experts say



Critical care guidance for COVID-19

The guidance from the Task Force for Mass Critical Care and CHEST offers nine specific actions that authors suggest as part of a framework for communities to establish the infrastructure needed to triage critical care resources and “equitably” meet the needs of the largest number of COVID-19 patients.

“It is the goal of the task force to minimize the need for allocation of scarce resources as much as possible,” the authors stated.

The framework starts with surge planning that includes an inventory of intensive care unit resources such as ventilators, beds, supplies, and staff that could be marshaled to meet a surge in demand, followed by establishing “identification triggers” for triage initiation by a regional authority, should clinical demand reach a crisis stage.

The next step is preparing the triage system, which includes creating a committee at the regional level, identifying members of tertiary triage teams and the support structures they will need, and preparing and distributing training materials.

Agreeing on a triage protocol is important to ensure equitable targeting of resources, and how to allocate limited life-sustaining measures needs to be considered, according to the panel of experts. They also recommend adaptations to the standards of care such as modification of end-of-life care policies, support for health care workers, family, and the public, and consideration of pediatric issues including transport, concentration of care at specific centers, and potential increases in age thresholds to accommodate surges.

Barriers to triage?

When asked about potential barriers to rolling out a triage plan, Dr. Maves said the first is acknowledging the possible need for such a plan: “It is a difficult concept for most in critical care to accept – the idea that we may not be able to provide an individual patient with interventions that we consider routine,” he said.

Beyond acknowledging need, other potential barriers to successful implementation include the limited evidence base to support development of these protocols, as well as the need to address public trust.

“If a triage system is perceived as unjust or biased, or if people think that triage favors or excludes certain groups unfairly, it will undermine any system,” Dr. Maves said. “Making sure the public both understands and has input into system development is critical if we are going to be able to make this work.”

Dr. Maves and coauthors reported that some of the authors of their guidance are United States government employees or military service members, and that their opinions and assertions do not reflect the official views or position of those institutions. Dr. Keller reported no disclosures related to the ECMO guidance.

SOURCES: Maves RC et al. Chest. 2020 Apr 11. pii: S0012-3692(20)30691-7. doi: 10.1016/j.chest.2020.03.063; Seethara R and Keller SP. Ann Am Thorac Soc. 2020 Apr 15. doi: 10.1513/AnnalsATS.202003-233PS.


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